Friday, May 28, 2010


the roller coaster begins. wish i had some tidy, pithy, stunning photos to provide you with what's around me and what's coming, but alas, the only one is below, taken last fall.

it's been getting steadily, incrementally more real as days go by. and now it's here.

i'm just trying to keep my eyes open and my feet on the ground. it helps when we can touch each other; makes me feel myself more.

right now, beneath me, the clack-clack-clack of the climbing car. my stomach's already dropping, in excitement, in fear, in anticipation.

lucky me, what an amazing person I have to fall with.

photo courtesy of grayscale photography

Monday, May 24, 2010

take the hit.

This morning I felt amazing. Literally brilliant. Supernatural. I stepped onto my mat, and one salutation in, I felt like light was shining out of my pores. I felt strong and graceful and competent, and very grounded.

Sadly, that feeling is pretty transient. Less than an hour later, while trying to iron out a detail or two of the remaining week, I suddenly became vulnerable again, made of flesh, not light or granite, human, pliable, and able to be hurt.

I'm getting married in seven days, six, if you don't count today. I've been quite quiet on this space because my wedding and marriage have been ruling the majority of my brain space for some time now, and this is not a wedding blog. I didn't want to log on here and use more of my time to think about centerpieces, or organizational skills, or conflict with loved ones. This is a space about questions and identity and discovery and joy and struggle. Weddings and marriages encase both of those, of course, but some of my life has felt so pedestrian lately, that I just couldn't bear spreading it all out here.

Things I've been meaning to think about instead of my wedding:

  • my upcoming 30th birthday
  • my long-form writing project, and what decisive direction I can take it in to continue trying to reach my goals as an artist
  • how to get a better teaching job, or a better job of any kind
  • how much longer my sweetheart and I want to live here in Chicago
  • how to get health insurance, now that my health insurance company has dropped me--or will, within the next 30 days
  • how to increase discipline into my life
  • how to make strides in my yoga practice, without actively wanting to be stronger or more flexible
  • his writing
  • his life as an artist

All these things I have run my fingers over, and then left behind on a shelf, to think about seating charts and bars and shoes and jobs for my hideously large family to do.

I am so looking forward to this coming day, to all of the people who will be there, who will be happy to be there, to have some of the magic and the beauty and the dedication that exists between me and mine rub off on them. I am equally looking forward to the time where we can sigh and sleep and tangle our limbs together and eat tasty food off our fingers and get up and go to bed when we want to. Rest.

I believe that something good happens when I am vulnerable, instead of indestructible. I believe that I am better able to feel, to feel myself, to feel the world around me, to feel loved ones, when I am soft and touchable, instead of invincible. It doesn't mean I don't get hurt; it's not even noon yet and I've already gotten hurt. I can't say something trite like it's worth it. I can only say that I want to be able to feel his fingertips, and all the hugs (good lord all the hugs) and the bubbles in my mouth, and that means taking the hit. Not bracing against it, just taking it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

journal entry: notes on Manifest May 14, 2010

"Pickering reveals our predilection to deflect fear by trying to anticipate and plan for it--and our tendency to process it by turning it into narrative."

What marks do you use to show that people have been in a space? How do you see objects, footprints, detritus, fingerprints, smears on a place to reveal something about who lives here and the lives they lead?
a magazine shrine to Paris Hilton on a slanted wall--hiding a stairwell on the next floor--painted lavender. models. one leg in front of the other, blue water, palms.

(If I were going to go back to school, I'd want an interdisciplinary degree. I think theory is useful, but it's only useful to academics. I don't want to cut teeth and earn chops on it.)

"I am going because it is worthwhile, it is my particular challenge, it will most likely bring benefits, but that is not why--I am going because I would have no peace if I stayed."
The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst Sara Andrews

So many women in the BFA exhibit are white. An overwhelming number. Is it because so many of the photographers are white? Or is it because of the fashion industry's homogeneity? What does the industry say to a changing world? Does it say, give us more women of color we can put on the cover of our fashion mags? in movies?
and what do we say? loosen your grip on what's attractive, sexy, striking about women? How do you define pretty?

There's a lot of the white story being told. White women. White men. White families. Who's telling my story? Who's telling our story?

How much training in a thing does one need to practice it?

the s-word=should

"everyone had a drink in their hand to help them keep their balance"

"in a congregation, gossip moves on good intentions"

30 lines with my new name in memory of absent partner

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Project US

So occasionally I've lent my space to others who are doing things that I think people should know about, and today I wanted to share something that my friend Johanna Middleton is working on.
I met Johanna about a year ago, when we worked together on a stage play produced at Northwestern and directed by my good friend and Performance Studies professor Paul Edwards. She's an incredibly talented and focused woman, and she's recently shared with me a project that she's working on, that creates a forum wherein young people can talk about sexual health. Often this topic seems a bit radioactive, as evidenced by the woefully inadequate education in our school systems, and the blanketing of abstinence education from religious organizations as the only way of talking with young people about their sexuality. That's the reason I'm so excited about this project; it sounds empowering for young people, like it meets them as individuals and agents in their own destiny. I'm so excited about what Johanna's doing. She's hoping to take this project to a conference in Austin, and to continue her work in Chicago. If you're interested in how you can help further what she's doing, she can be reached at

Project US recently developed through collaboration between myself and a thoughtful and talented team of Northwestern alumni and students.
I am very proud of this program, which has toured to schools and youth conferences throughout Chicago over the past several months. Recently, Project US received an exciting honor. We have been invited to present and perform our play at the internationally acclaimed Theatre of the Oppressed Conference in Austin, Texas in June 2010. This is the worldwide hub of socially-engaged arts and education!
Project US is an original, participatory performance that works to initiate conversations around young people's sexual health. We created the project in response to the lack of comprehensive sexual health education in Illinois public schools. We strongly believe that it is necessary to create a space for productive and meaningful conversations around health and well-being for youth, using performance as a framework.
Devised in partnership with Chicago youth from schools and youth groups, Project US combines performance, improvisation, and participatory actions to actively engage young audiences in personal dialogue. It is designed so that young people steer the play’s direction; each performance is specific to the individuals in our audience. Students partake in a series of activities and games that actively engage them and challenge them to think and respond critically.
The response has been incredible! Young people tell us repeatedly how much they want more programming like this. When given the opportunity to take personal responsibility, a space to practice tools for healthy communication, and armed with accurate, comprehensive information, students are asking important questions. They are taking charge of their lives and developing the self-confidence and self-esteem to make healthy, informed decisions about their health and futures.
We partnered with Sisters Empowering Sisters (SES), the social justice and leadership youth group of the Chicago Girls' Coalition, on initial project planning and they have been on tour with us. They provide peer-led sex education trainings that supplement the performance. We also partner with the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (ICAH), which serves as our umbrella organization.

Friday, May 7, 2010


I've been tearing through books lately--I go through fazes where I don't read much for months, and then for months I devour almost anything, really amuses my sweetheart--and I just this morning put one down that has been messing with me ever since I picked it up.

James Frey's Bright Shiny Morning.

I could write about my opinion about A Million Little Pieces, and the state of the American memoir, or I could write a review of the book, which is crafted artfully and thoughtfully and is a sprawling tale of an enormous community told well (sometimes alarmingly, viscerally, achingly well).

But I'm going to write about feelings.

Last week I read a book my Janice Y. K. Lee called The Piano Teacher, about interracial relationships separated by decades in Hong Kong. It was interesting, and I'm sure Ang Lee would make a beautiful film of it, with Ming-Na and Ralph Fiennes and Tony Leung and other Asian American actors, and mouth-wateringly gorgeous costumes and sweaty jungle air, and it would do well in the box office. But it made me think of relationships, and prioritization, and how you choose to love someone and how you give to them.

This James Frey book, it makes me think about Los Angeles, California (the book is set there) and why I've been in love with it for so long, and how, in a very real way, I've been longing to engineer my life and the life of my sweetheart to wind up there. And it makes me wonder if all that desire isn't absolutely misplaced, isn't me trying to make a mistake, make a choice I would later regret.

The last book that made me cry, really sob, was called The Bone People, about three New Zealanders--one white, two Maori--who made a misfit and at at times utterly dysfunctional family. It was painful and brutal in places, and I was profoundly affected by it. Lee's novel puts me in a place of wondering about the mashing of two different cultures, and if it's ever possible to succeed at loving across lines of that kind of demarcation. Frey's novel makes me think that the jewel I've been dreaming of on the west coast is really just a cesspool of damaged, deeply wounded people left to bake and congeal in the sunshine with really good PR.

The truth is that these books are good, really good, but not great. Not transformative for me as a writer, at least not yet. The truth is I lately feel like a cup of hot dark liquid filled to the brim, perched on top of a car or clutched in the hand of someone distracted, that is threatening to turn over and stain whatever I land on. I feel tender and emotional. My mom used to tell me, "Jessica, you feel things more deeply than anyone I've ever known." There are all kinds of theories about why people are excessively sensitive, right? It doesn't help that I'm three weeks away from a major life change.

Today I am looking at a gray sky, wishing it were blue, and thinking about what it is to be someone who feels so deeply, who, despite a fair amount of damage from a number of sources, still has skin the thickness of rice paper. Does it mean that a career as a writer is a colossally bad idea, and instead I should choose something with less public interface, like work in a warehouse? Does it mean that sensitivity is an endangered quality of the human condition, and it makes me a better artist, and that I should treasure and preserve it, despite the fact that that means a painful life?

Or is this just how everyone feels when they're about to get married?

p.s. Big thank you to my good friend, and great writer, Andrew. I don't think he reads this, but he's the reason I'm reading all these books.